Persian Literature, there is love, and then there is Vis,
who stands out amongst all the women in Persian literature. Vis is the main
character in a love story from two thousand years ago, “Vis
o Ramin”. All characters in the story come to life only in her presence. Here is a woman who refutes wealth, name,
position, and everything else and makes an eternal commitment to love and all
that comes with it: shame, betrayal, longing, pain, desire… Her name and her
story travel from one end of the empire to the other:
murmur my story…”, she says.
She is threatened,
beaten, and imprisoned. And if that is not enough, her husband sets up a trap
to burn her alive in public. She bears it all and more.
is the eternal lover; one who finds love and takes an oath to nothing else.
Wealth, virtue, name and all that lose color in the face of love.
is not acceptable for a woman when regarded by those who feel they are in a
position of moral authority. Nezami, who supposedly used “Vis o Ramin” as a
model to write “Khosrow va Shirin”, calls Vis disrespectable and infamous,
Zakani discourages women from reading “Vis o Ramin”, and later Dastgerdi wages
a war against the book by calling it “the enemy of Iranian honor and morality”.
were not shared by ordinary people who loved the story and regarded it highly. Gurgani himself stated at the beginning of his
book that story was loved by people in Iran. There is also a Japanese
document from 800 years ago where an Iranian traveler writes two verses of “Vis
o Ramin” for a Japanese monk who was traveling from China as a keepsake. This evidence
indicates that the story must have been very popular among Iranians to know it
by heart and recite it for others in a distant land.
“Vis o Ramin” is an ancient Persian love story from 2000
years ago. The story is believed to belong to the Parthian period and is
written in poetry by Fakhraddin Gurgani about 1000 years ago. Gurgani is a
pioneer in writing love stories in poetry and his style was largely emulated by
later poets such as Nezami. “Vis o Ramin” is
one of the most influential ancient love stories.. The story is about a love
affair between two young lovers who sacrifice name, family, social obligations
and everything else to be with each other. It was loved and admired by people
long after it was written.
reveals a great deal about a period in Iranian history about which very little
is known. The traditions and customs of those times do not necessarily match
those of our times. The story talks about marriage of sister and brother
–common amongst the ruling class at the time. This is something that is loathed
for some centuries, but the story talks about a different time, different
people, and different traditions from ours.
also the subject and the main character of the book that cause awes. The story
is about an earthly love, one that is all about flesh and blood. This is very
different from the notion of love that became popular in later centuries. The
love that has a connection to the heavens and almighty was not known in ancient
In all ancient Iranian love stories, love is very much the love based of the attraction
of two people of opposite sex.
also the strong hints of Zoroastrianism which biased people later interpreted
as “worshipping fire”.
All of these
factors could have played a role in why the story has become less and less
known over time and has been left out of educational curriculum despite its
literary merits, historical information, and beauty.
There is also
Vis, a woman who takes conventions and
traditions for nothing when she enters the realm of love. She is a married
woman in a sense. She is forced into a marriage with her father’s killer who is
an impotent man. For a woman who refuses to be anything but passive (unlike
Leili in Leili va Majnoon) or to trade love for becoming the queen (like Shirin
in Khosrow va Shirin) and who risks everything for an anything-but-a-virtuous
man (young, beautiful, and vivacious Ramin), there is a price to pay.
sense, Vis is unique. She dares to fall in
love with her husband’s brother for no other motive than love. She does not
expect anything from Ramin other than loyalty. She is the Queen of the empire,
she has the key to the King’s treasury, she has everyone under her order, and
she ignores it all to be with Ramin. When the King, angry and frustrated by her
insistence on her love for Ramin, expels her from the palace, she surrenders
the treasury keys and leaves immediately and happily.
And that is
why Vis occupies a unique place in Persian
literature. There is simply no one like her; no commitment like hers, and no
suffering like hers. Her story has a happy ending, one that is different from
Iranian stories in the Islamic era where the fate of the lovers is a sad one.
been many attempts to provide summarized prose versions of many old love
stories including “Leili va Majnoon”. For
one thousand years since Gurgani narrated the story in Persian poetry, there
have been few attempts to provide a summarized prose version of the story in
Persian. Some researchers have examined the story from the point of view of
folklore, history, literature, and provided the plot. A great deal of Gurgani’s
book is on description of the lovers’ inner conflicts, doubts, longing, desire,
and joy and celebrations; these are missing in summarized plots presented by
concerned that the story will soon be forgotten as committing to reading 400
pages of poetry may be daunting for many. I converted the book to prose and
summarized it to make it more accessible to all. The book, published by
Naghmah-yi Zendegi in Tehran,
starts with an introduction to the author’s motivation and an account of the
importance of the book and Gurgani’s work. The story is a direct conversion from
poetry to prose in a summary form. It provides a brief introduction to this
literary masterpiece for many people who may not enjoy poetry or may simply not
have the necessary skills to read poetry, yet who may still enjoy a beautiful